Meet Jessica Cisneros, the 28-year-old immigration lawyer who forced a veteran Democrat into a Texas runoff

Cisneros, a first-generation Mexican American lawyer like Cuellar, once interned for Cuellar. She said several times during the campaign that the veteran lawmaker, who opposes abortion rights and criticizes some of President Biden’s immigration policies, was out of touch with the district.

The closely watched race underscored the division within the Democratic Party and was a new test of whether left-leaning candidates, who have struggled in recent elections, can prevail over more moderate Democrats.

It wasn’t Cisneros’ first offer against Cuellar. After interning for him in 2014, she took on a main challenge six years later and came within 2,700 votes of defeating it. Cuellar was then able to win thanks to decades of name recognition and a thorough campaign account — he topped it by $700,000.

This time around, Cisneros entered the race confident that years of strengthening his relationship with the community, a stronger grassroots campaign and a redesigned district to include more parts of liberal San Antonio would be enough to push her to victory.

Whether this is true is still unclear.

Cisneros’ platform includes support for abortion rights, Medicare for All and an overhaul of the national system more friendly to immigrants, but she said her membership is not just about supporting progressive liberal ideals.

But now, Cisneros is confident that years of strengthening her relationship with the community, a stronger grassroots campaign and a redesigned district to include more parts of liberal San Antonio will be enough to push her to a primary victory.

Speaking about his platform, which includes support for abortion rights, Medicare for All and an overhaul of the national system more friendly to immigrants, Cisneros said his membership goes beyond support for liberal ideals. progressive.

“When I talk about Medicare for All and why I support this policy, I always talk about how when I was 13 I had to help my family raise money by selling plates of food to fundraise… No 13 or no family should have to do that,” Cisneros said. “It’s much easier for people to grasp the concepts and policies that we apply if we do it that way, instead of trying to fit us into one label or another.”

Her parents had immigrated to the United States when her older sister needed urgent medical attention. Cisneros’ father picked fruit and started his own trucking business. Cisneros is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received her law degree from the University of Texas, where she focused on immigration law.

Cisneros has the support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) and the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). She has received support from Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, the Latino Victory Fund and unions including the Texas AFL-CIO. She supports policies that often sit opposite the Democratic spectrum of Cuellar, who is considered one of the most conservative members of Congress.

Cuellar has promised to strike bipartisan deals in the House, telling voters in a recent campaign ad that he wants to “build a relationship with both parties.”

Cuellar had criticized Cisneros, saying she supports two key issues being pushed by Liberal Democrats that he says could negatively impact the district — a move toward more clean energy and less funding for the U.S. Border Patrol.

“Cisneros is against oil and gas and I will not vote to cut 40,000 high-paying jobs here,” Cuellar said in an interview with The Washington Post.

While Cisneros expressed support for the Green New Deal and the renewable energy industry, she pledged to be “a voice for workers in the fossil fuel industry to ensure no one is left behind.” “.

On the border, Cuellar said he wanted to make sure “we don’t have open borders, defund the police, or attack border patrol.”

“These are well-paying jobs,” he said. “My opponent said my district was too dependent on Homeland Security jobs – which we totally disagree on.”

Cisneros pointed to her background as an immigration lawyer to contrast Cuellar, who has become one of her party’s most vocal critics of the Biden administration’s immigration policies. . While he attacked many of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies — he opposed building a border wall — Cuellar described the Biden administration as too welcoming of immigrants.

He also accused Biden of listening too much to “immigration activists” and not listening enough to those living on the border, including landowners and law enforcement officials.

Cisneros, meanwhile, has consistently cited her work advocating for immigrants against deportation under the Trump administration as evidence that her views on immigration are the opposite of Cuellar’s — and more in tune with his constituents in his district, which is predominantly rural and Latino.

She supports scrapping a 1996 law passed during the Clinton administration that laid the foundation for the country’s mass deportation system that still exists today.

“It was so heartbreaking and painful,” she said at a campaign event, of her work on deportation cases. “But I represented so many people who reminded me of my family, and the only difference between them and me was the fact that I was born in this country, that I was born five minutes north of the river.”

The race in the 28th District followed an FBI raid on Cuellar’s home and campaign headquarters on January 19. The member of Congress claimed his innocence and vowed to stay in the race but did not specify why he is under investigation.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.


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